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Helping Students Approach FEA Simulations like Experts

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.769.1 - 22.769.15



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Paper Authors


Kathryn Dimiduk Cornell University

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Kathryn Dimiduk is the Director of the Teaching Excellence Institute in the College of Engineering at Cornell University. She received her B.A. in Physics from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Stanford University. Her current research interests are in engineering education.

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Rajesh Bhaskaran Cornell University

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Rajesh Bhaskaran is Swanson Director of Engineering Simulation Program in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. He is leading efforts in the Sibley School to integrate contemporary simulation technologies into the mechanical and aerospace engineering curriculum. His research interests include engineering applications of simulation technology, integration of simulation technology into engineering education, reliable deployment of advanced simulation by generalist engineers and conceptual change in learners using simulations. He holds a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from Iowa State University.

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Haolin Zhu Cornell University

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Haolin Zhu is a PhD Candidate in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University.

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Yingxin Gao Cornell University

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Helping Students Approach FEA Simulations like Experts Computer simulation is a powerful modality for solving engineering problems, distinct fromtheory and experiments. To reap the full benefits, most engineers, not just specialists, need theability to deploy simulation effectively. Simulation also offers the opportunity to enhancelearning through an interactive, visual medium1 and build excitement among students about theengineering profession.Cognitive research has shown that people’s beliefs lie in a spectrum from “novice” to “expert” 2.Wieman’s group has shown that interactive simulations, when designed using a rigorous,scientific approach, are much more effective than lectures in helping physics students develop anexpert cognitive structure 3. A preliminary survey, of “Best practices” guidelines4 developed bypracticing engineers for using simulations, indicates that the expert approach has an underlyinguniformity irrespective of the specific context or discipline. Thus our hypothesis is that ifstudents, in their formative years, see the same expert approach being followed repeatedly for awide variety of problems in different subject areas, they are likely to internalize it and be able toapply it in new situations.We are developing learning materials and strategies to help undergraduate students in a large,required, solid mechanics course learn an “expert approach” to simulation. Students are taughtanalytical and FEA solutions in parallel across the semester to facilitate a deeper understandingof the “more expert” approach of using knowledge from analytical solutions to verify andvalidate FEA solutions. We have integrated this approach by creating simulationdemonstrations, in-class clicker questions, homework assignments and group projects. Weexplicitly include a pre-analysis step where students focus on prediction of simulation results inpreparation for a verification and validation step where students go through a normal process forchecking results.Several simulation demonstrations have been created to connect simulations with theories orconcepts: a tensile bar; a rectangular plate with a hole in tension; and a curved beam under purebending. Each demonstration is introduced when the corresponding theories and concepts,including analytical solutions, are presented. Analytical and numerical solutions are compared.The demonstrations help students visualize solutions, explore the assumptions included in theanalytical solutions, and introduce the idea of using simulations and analytical solutions to testeach other. Online tutorials and homework exercises assist students in learning to criticallyanalyze simulation results. Students also complete three projects: developing matlab code forinterpolation of a constant strain triangular element (understanding the underlying process ofFEA), creating a post-simulation processing tool in matlab (analyzing the output of asimulation), and optimizing the geometry for a bike crank (design project using simulation).We assess the effectiveness of our approach by examining student solutions and explanations tohomework problems and projects related to simulation, looking in particular for changes inthinking along a “novice to expert” path. We keep track of their understanding in lecturethrough the use of clicker questions.References: 1. Wieman, C.E., Perkins, K.K., and Adams, W.K (2008) “Interactive simulations for teaching physics: What works, what doesn't, and why.” C.E. Wieman, K.K. Perkins, W.K. Adams, American Journal of Physics, 76 (4 & 5): 393-399. 2. Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., and Cocking, R.R. (1999) How People Learn, NAS Press, Washington, DC. 3. Wieman, C. (2007) “Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to Teaching Science.” Change, Sep.- Oct.: 9-15. 4. For example: Adams, V., (2008) “A Designer’s Guide to Simulation with Finite Element Analysis, NAFEMS.

Dimiduk, K., & Bhaskaran, R., & Zhu, H., & Gao, Y. (2011, June), Helping Students Approach FEA Simulations like Experts Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18050

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